It’s unlikely that even the most dedicated showgoer or obsessives among us consume as much music in a given year as concert promoters do. Their lives are inevitably spent either absorbing it nightly at the venues that constitute their second homes, or fielding submissions from hopeful musicians. We surveyed 10 such sleep-deprived, tinnitus-afflicted souls from across North America to offer their take on 2014 from the frontlines of the live-music industry—and which acts, of the hundreds they encountered this past year, left the deepest impression.
AUSTIN / Graham Williams, Transmission Events
Biggest event you put on in 2014: Fun Fun Fun Fest is our biggest annual event Our biggest show was a two-night play of Neutral Milk Hotel: 2,500 tickets a night.
Proudest moment of 2014: Booking that meteor at Fun Fun Fun Fest on the Saturday night of the fest. The agreement with the cosmos was for it to come down during the headliners’ sets. The timing was great, and it came down above the Fest right during Modest Mouse’s “Dark Center of the Universe”, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Yeah, there was some debate over whether King Diamond—who was also playing at the same time—called it down with a human sacrifice on stage, but that’s bullshit. I booked that fucker, and it cost a lot of money.
Best set you experienced this year: Gorilla Biscuits doing a super underplay on the inside stage at Mohawk—175 capacity—on Nov. 9. It was totally crazy and fun seeing my favorite band when I was in high school in a space the size of my living room with friends.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: One stand-out right now is this guy Roger Sellers. His sound has no reason to be good: electronic/synth stuff and Americana. But it’s great—he does both styles pretty seamlessly. Austin is a hip city, but Texas is still pretty isolated. It’s hard to tour and get from the south to anywhere with a bigger audience, so there are a lot of great acts that aren’t heard or signed due to the geography of the place.
BLOOMINGTON / Dan Coleman, Spirit of ’68 Promotions/The Bishop
Proudest moment of 2014: Watching Joe Pug make a leap after working the market for so long, or watching Tendai from Shabazz Palaces discuss African politics with grad students backstage post-show.
Best set you experienced this year: Diarrhea Planet at The Bishop, Feb. 21. They brought the energy of a basement show to a club with a command of the stage and the crowd I haven’t seen in some time—from pulling random strangers onstage for impromptu punk songs to soloing while walking through the crowd with a member of The Coathangers on their shoulders. It was a true rock spectacle.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Hair Peace. He’s a 13-year-old kid who makes really great lo-fi psych rock that he produces and records himself.
BROOKLYN / David Castillo, Saint Vitus
Biggest event you put on in 2014: The biggest show I did this year is when Saint Vitus hosted a secret after-party for Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear played about 17 Nirvana songs with guest singers J. Mascis, Joan Jett, St. Vincent, John McCauley, and Kim Gordon.
Best set you experienced this year: Swans at Basilica Soundscape. It was almost three hours of Michael Gira and co. deconstructing rock music and putting it back together again in truly triumphant fashion.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Couch Slut. Megan [Osztrosits], their singer, goes into these vocal fits that give them a lot of character and really stood out to me.
CHICAGO / Marea Stamper, Smart Bar
Biggest event you put on in 2014: Les Sins was a capacity event for us. Our room tops out at 420 but, as people left the show, another 200 who waited in line outside filled their spots. It was an incredible night.
Your proudest moment of 2014: The Frankie Knuckles birthday event in January of this year with Louie Vega, David Morales, Inaya Day and Ultra Nate—along with the residents of Queen!—was a day I will never forget my whole life. Frankie wasn’t able to play, but the whole room sang to him. We lost him in April, shortly after the show.
Biggest challenge your business faced in 2014: Our owner and fearless leader, Joe Shanahan, faced a battle with cancer. I don’t think any of us knew how much energy and life he gave to us until he wasn’t in the office every day. Thank god he beat it. We’re thrilled to have him back.
Best set you experienced this year: Theo Parrish at Smart Bar was hard to beat. He just works so deftly between genres and brings that inimitable energy.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Rahaan is one of the world’s greatest living DJs. I wouldn’t call him exactly unknown, but most people walking down the street might not know who he is and they should. His collection and skill are incredibly inspirational. From soul to disco to house, he’s on a different level.
LOS ANGELES / Adam Weiss, Ham on Everything
Your proudest moment of 2014: Lil B the Based God. To be honest, if not for Lil B, Ham on Everything probably wouldn’t even exist.
Best set you experienced this year: We had Project Pat play a warehouse party February of this year. He is just such a hood-rap legend. Another insane experience was my birthday this year, May 22. I threw a party—more on a dance-y Jersey club/juke-rave vibe—and Wiz Khalifa showed up the day before he dropped 28 Grams. He ended up performing most of the new mixtape live. We didn’t even have a stage—he performed on top of a sub. It was unreal. I felt like I was on an episode of MTV’s My Sweet 16.
Unknown local artist/DJ from your scene that everyone needs to know about: One of my faves, from our scene who is slept on is this DJ that goes by Haruna DJ Barbie. She’s from Tokyo originally. She goes super-hard when she DJs.
MEXICO, D.F. / Ramón Jaramillo, Despacho de Proyectos
How long have you been booking events?: I started a few years ago when my friends and I had a band called DDA (Attention Deficit Disorder). We wanted to play with other bands who we considered good and we also wanted to make a stronger local scene in Mexico City that was inclusive to all types of genres. After playing with other local bands, we felt we needed to open it up internationally, so I made my first booking: We brought Grooms from New York to play at the first edition of Raymondstock—the name derives from a dream I had where Jim Morrison tells me I have to make a festival!—that was in an old abandoned kindergarten with many small rooms that were falling apart.
Biggest event you put on in 2014: The second edition of Raymondstock was sold out; this time, we had funding, so everything was legal as opposed to the first year, where we had to pay off cops outside the door. By 5 p.m., all 1,350 tickets were gone and we had a huge line of people outside who weren’t able to get in.
Your proudest moment of 2014: My proudest moment was when the band Walle from Tijuana, played in Mexico City. I felt proud to make a show with only a couple of days to organize it, on a rooftop in downtown Mexico City.
Best set you experienced this year: Of course, it was Raymondstock 2014, the venue was in Indie Rocks. The festival for me was like a dream come true. The audience was awesome, it was promoted as a festival for “weird kids” and it was 90 per cent bands that were pretty much underground, so it was people who wanted to discover new music, and people who want to know what was really happening in music in their country.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: AAAA. He is a young Mexican electronic-music producer. His first full-length album, Shiva Watts—put out by the Mexican label Maligna—is amazing, I’ve literally been listening to it non-stop for several months now.
MONTREAL / Meyer Billurcu, Blue Skies Turn Black
Biggest event you put on in 2014: We had a Caribou concert on Nov. 10 at Metropolis, which sold out at 2,300 tickets. I’ve been putting on shows with Dan [Snaith] ever since BSTB first started, back when he was still known as Manitoba.
Your proudest moment of 2014: Opening a new venue, called Bar Le “Ritz” P.D.B., in Montreal’s Parc-Ex neighborhood. I’d been running a venue on my own for a while, called Il Motore, and was approached by Thierry [Amar] and Efrim [Menuck] of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion, who were looking to open up a bar in the neighbourhood. We agreed to essentially tear down Il Motore, and use the space for something new that could meet both of our visions. We renovated it from top to bottom, and ended up with a bar and concert venue, open day and night, seven days a week.
Biggest challenge your business faced in 2014: Blue Skies Turn Black was conceived initially out of a very ’90s DIY/ethos. We grew up on a steady diet of records from labels like Dischord, Touch and Go, SST, etc., whose ideals made a lasting impression on us. We used to print, cut, and deliver all of our tickets ourselves, and would hire our friends or significant others to help us with working the door or concert posters. This kind of grassroots, by-the-people-for-the-people mentality that the company was built on simply is no longer sustainable for a promoter who’s trying staying competitive in today’s market. In the face of massive corporate-sponsored festivals where you can pay to see 400 bands in one day, smaller promoters everywhere are having to fight harder with every passing year just to stick around. It’s not always easy, but we do what we can to cultivate lasting relationships with artists.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Lydia Ainsworth, an artist recently signed to Montreal’s Arbutus Records, is really worth checking out. She’s got this Julie Holter-meets-Ace of Base vibe that’ll blow your mind.
SAN FRANCISCO / Dan Strachota, Rickshaw Stop
Biggest event you put on in 2014: We had two Ty Segall shows in February—which were recorded for a live album out this January on Castleface Records—that sold out in a shockingly quick amount of time.
Best set you experienced this year: The Coathangers on Aug. 12. They just do simple, fun rock ‘n’ roll better than anyone else.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Ugh, just one? Cocktails are such a perfect pop band—imagine Cheap Trick’s guitar hooks wed to snarled lyrics about the vagaries of modern adult life. And The Seshen brew space-age soul rife with silky female harmonies and jazzy organ riffs.
SEATTLE / Eli Anderson, Neumos
Your proudest moment of 2014: ODESZA at Neumos on April 12 and 13. We put them on the main stage at the Capitol Hill Block Party the year before at the last minute, as a small local act, and I remember wondering if they could pull off a stage that big. That seems like a really dumb thing to think in retrospect. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen people that excited to see a band. They sold out two nights at Neumos and, honestly, we probably could have done four. Totally amazing to see a band rise to the level they had at that point in only nine months.
Biggest challenge your business faced in 2014: We are lucky to offer something that you can’t experience any way else. But, at the same time, the question becomes: “how is what you are offering as a club or a band better than the million other entertainment options people have?” I think we see bands struggle with that a bit, too, as they come up. It’s more important than ever for a band to be either unbelievably killer live or have some sort of hook that is going to draw people into the live experience.
Best set you experienced this year: Angel Olsen at Capitol Hill Block Party, July 27. The week before the fest was a blur and I had been losing my mind in preparations for the fest, just nailing down every tiny detail—and there are a lot of them. But then, I am standing there watching Angel be effortlessly incredible and I remembered why you go to all that trouble. It’s nice to be reminded of that every once in a while.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: I thought about this a lot, and while there are tons of legit amazing bands in Seattle—FF, Cabana, Flavr Blue, what up?—I’d be lying if I said anything other than Posse.
TORONTO / Amy Hersenhoren, Collective Concerts
Biggest show you put on in 2014: An entire eight-date Canadian tour for Modest Mouse. I sold approximately 16,000 tickets.
Your proudest moment of 2014: Convincing The Hold Steady to play four shows at the Horseshoe Tavern for its 67th-birthday party earlier this month. We sold a lot of tickets and fans seemed genuinely excited that it was happening here in Toronto.
Biggest challenge your business faced in 2014: Just trying to sell tickets in a market that has WAY TOO MANY SHOWS.
Best set you experienced this year: Not my show: Rocket From The Crypt, April 2, Bowery Ballroom in New York. Of my shows: FKA twigs at the Danforth Music Hall, August 9.
Unknown local artist from your scene that everyone needs to know about: Rush. That guy can really play that bass!